Two teams that could steal the Big Ten tournament. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE
Last week I asked some of Maize n Brew's writers a few questions about the Big Ten tournament. These are their answers.
Who is your pick for the favorite to win the Big Ten tournament and why?
Dave Ryan - Michigan State. I still think they are the best team in the conference, and I like the way Draymond willingly puts them on his back in key situations. I'm also expecting improved play from Keith Appling and Branden Dawson (Ed note: In Dave's defense he submitted the answers before the Dawson injury) in Indianapolis to kickstart them a bit. I'll also take Izzo's coaching against anybody else in the conference, regardless of the fact that he's been ice cold in Big Ten tourneys throughout his career.
Holdin' the Rope - Before the news of Branden Dawson's injury, I would have picked the Spartans. However, taking that into account, I think that the Buckeyes are the favorites, their recent struggles notwithstanding. Buford has been very THJ-esque in his struggles throughout this season, but I could very easily see that game-winner being the motivational spark needed to play up to his potential the rest of the way. I'm not an enormous fan of Matta's gameday coaching, but I have to think that the Buckeyes have more than enough talent and a desire to play their best ball going into the Big Dance that they'll turn up their play accordingly.
Zach Travis - Last week I would have picked either Michigan State or Ohio State in a landslide. This week, I'm not so sure either team makes it to the finals. Ohio State just can't put together a full game effort as of late, and that is always troublesome when it comes to tournaments like this where momentum is a factor. Michigan State lost something big when Dawson went down, and while I think Izzo gets things right by NCAA tourney time, I think next week there will be some stumbles from the Spartans. My favorite to win? Indiana. The Hoosiers have recovered from a slump in the middle of the year and have won seven of eight.
Alex Cook - I think Ohio State has to be the favorite to win the Big Ten Tournament now. Michigan State has traditionally done poorly in the Big Ten Tournament and Branden Dawson's injury will hurt them a lot, Indiana has an advantage playing close to home but would need to win four games in a row, Michigan probably can't beat Ohio State on a neutral court, and Wisconsin can't beat Indiana, Michigan State and Ohio State in a row. That leaves the Buckeyes, and if William Buford plays like he did on Sunday, they're the best team in the conference by a mile.
What team is your sleeper pick to win the Big Ten tournament and why?
Dave - Purdue could definitely make some noise. We know Robbie Hummel is always a dangerous scorer who can go off at a moment's notice, and much of his supporting cast was present for the Big Ten title run two years ago. It's hard to definitively call any Big Ten squad a 'sleeper', but it would be a pretty big surprise if the Boilermakers found a way to run the table again.
HtR - I don't even know if they could be considered a true "sleeper" but I'd have to say Indiana. The inside presence of Zeller paired with IU's arsenal of 3-point bombers make for a formidable opponent for any Big Ten team. Yes, they don't really play much defense and we all know what a 3-happy offense has the capability of looking like from time to time, but IU has what it takes to pull off a BTT title.
Zach - Northwestern. Teams playing for their life are dangerous, and Northwestern has been oh so close to a number of huge upsets. I think if the shots are falling NU can win it all.
Alex - I'll go with Purdue. The Boilermakers simply have to beat Nebraska to get out of the first round, but still have to deal with Ohio State in the second round. The Buckeyes only beat Purdue by three in Columbus this year and had their worst defensive showing of the entire season against Purdue. Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson are plenty talented enough to pull an upset, and then after that, they'd probably play Michigan or Northwestern, teams they've beaten in the past month. Playing in Indianapolis probably doesn't hurt either.
How much do you think Michigan can help or hurt its NCAA tournament seed in the Big Ten tournament?
Dave - I don't think there's much variance there. I doubt we'd get tossed into a dreaded 5 vs. 12 game, so it seems like a No. 3 or 4 seed is the likely destination. It's nice to know that even with the cruel blow of an opening game loss we still can't really adversely affect our seed.
HtR - I would imagine that Michigan likely won't be able to see their potential seeding be affected too much by the BTT. From what I gather, they're at best a 2 (best case scenario) and at worst a 4. Most people are saying they're a 3 as of the end of the season, and I get the feeling that even if they lose their first game against Northwestern/Minnesota, I think they'll likely stick at 3.
Zach - At this point I think Michigan is most likely a three- or four-seed. Michigan doesn't have the overall resume to make a push for a one-seed, and winning it all might get a two-seed, but I don't think a quick loss bounces the Wolverines down at all.
Alex - I think Michigan's basically set with the seed they have right now. If they lose in their first game in the Big Ten Tournament, they could slip to a four seed, and if they win it all, they could move up to a two, but as of right now, not much could move Michigan up or down from their spot as a three seed. I think Michigan's playing for a tournament title, because their seeding won't be changed by the result of a game or two at this juncture.
What team can help its NCAA tournament resume the most with a strong showing in the Big Ten tournament?
Dave - Northwestern. I'm not sure there's another power conference team in America that needs to show up bigger in its league tourney than Bill Carmody's Wildcats. Even though some bracketologists believe Northwestern is a good bet to make the 68-team field, it's still going to be entertaining to watch this team play for its life in Indianapolis.
HtR - This might be somewhat obvious, but...Northwestern. They are apparently one of the last four teams in as of now, and if they want to give themselves a little breathing room. A first-round loss would be fairly catastrophic, and they will probably want to beat Michigan in the second round if they want to feel really comfortable. Luckily for them, beating a team three teams in one season is notoriously difficult to do. For a less obvious answer, I'd say Purdue. Lunardi has Purdue as a 9-seed, with them having the unfortunate task of taking on Kentucky if they get by their first-round matchup with St. Mary's. This iteration of Purdue basketball is nowhere near the teams of the recent past, but I think Purdue is definitely better than a 9-seed.
Zach - Obvious answer is obvious: Northwestern. Iowa could have put itself into position to make a B1G tourney run and improve its NCAA tourney stock, but not with two losses in the final three games to not-quite-tournament-worthy teams. Northwestern is playing for its life.
Alex - Northwestern is probably the only team that can really improve its standing with the NCAA Tournament Committee. Everybody else is either solidly in the tournament (MSU, OSU, UM, IU, UW, and Purdue) or needs to win the Big Ten Tournament to make it into the field. The Wildcats are really the only team that can play its way in or out of the tournament -- a loss in the first round to Minnesota would knock them out in all likelihood, and a win over the Gophers and then over Michigan would put them in. Seeing as how they split the season series with Minnesota and took Michigan to overtime twice, it's definitely possible.
What non-NCAA tournament qualifying team or teams from the Big Ten do you think makes a leap next year to qualify for the tournament?
Dave - Iowa. The Hawkeyes should return five of their six top scorers, and are bringing in a very respectable signing class next year (2 four-stars, 3 two-stars). At 8-10, this team was really not very far off from the pace to begin with, and could only be a few breaks, and a few new faces, away from making the field of 68 in 2013.
HtR - I'm not sure what their plans are, but if Leonard and Paul come back then Illinois is the somewhat cop-outy answer here. Otherwise, I would have to say Iowa. Aaron White had a very solid freshman season and I really like Southfield native Roy Devyn Marble's game. Basabe is a talented but inconsistent guy who will be a junior next season. Iowa loses a lot of minutes from its back court in Gatens and Cartwright, though, which could be an issue, but Iowa just signed 4-star PG Mike Gesell, who I assume will run the show from day one. Iowa also brings in a 6'11'' 4-star center in Adam Woodbury. Iowa is a young team and this was only year 2 of the McCaffery era; I think Iowa is trending up.
Zach - Iowa. I agree that Illinois should be back to form, but I still say that the Illini were a tournament team that Weber drove off a cliff. Iowa is building something that hasn't been there in a while, and I think next year the Hawkeyes do better in the non-conference season and go .500 in conference. Enough for a nine- or ten-seed.
Alex - Iowa is the team that's most likely to make the jump next year. The Hawkeyes lose Matt Gatens and Bryce Cartwright, but they return some very good players: sophomores Roy Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe (who's hit a bit of a slump this year) and freshman Aaron White form a solid, young nucleus for Iowa. They're also bringing in a solid recruiting class headlined by Top-50 big man Adam Woodbury, so Fran McCaffery, who's done a very good job turning the Hawkeye program around, can make the NCAA Tournament next year. Of course, if Illinois makes an excellent hire, they'll be back into the tournament quickly as well.
Dave - It has to be Burke. I think it's much more impressive when a first-year point guard comes in and takes over an offense for a school that won a Big Ten regular season title. And is it not relevant that Burke is exactly one foot shorter than the 6'11" Zeller? Which guy do you honestly think had an easier transition to the college game? Zeller is a stud, no doubt, but Burke is the only answer to this question.
HtR - This has to be one of the closest FOTY races in Big Ten history, but I have to go with Burke. Not only are the Wolverines a less talented team than IU, top to bottom. IU's shooters space out the floor in a way that gives Zeller ample room with which to operate, and I don't think Michigan's offensive attack provides an analogue like that for Burke within the Michigan offense. Zeller is a great talent, but I think that considering Burke is: a) running the offense as a freshman and b) playing approximately 8 more minutes a game than Zeller, I think I'd have to give it to Burke by a hair. It's incredibly close, though, and any arguments that people might throw out for Zeller would likely be similarly cogent.
Zach - Point guard has a much higher degree of difficulty than center/power forward. What Burke was able to accomplish --- and what he was forced to accomplish stepping into a wide open depth chart for the departed Darius Morris --- was incredible. The bigger argument here is should he have gotten first-team All-Big Ten (Yes.).
Alex - Objectively, it's insanely close. They should both be on the freshman All-American team, and Burke should have joined Zeller on the First-Team All-Big Ten squad. Zeller is the more efficient player and obviously has better rebounding numbers, but Burke's assist rate is actually better for a guard than Zeller's is for a forward. Really, it's nearly impossible to distinguish which one's better by using the numbers, traditional and tempo-free, so I won't try to. The argument that Zeller is more valuable to his team isn't exactly true; Indiana wouldn't be 11-7 in the Big Ten without him and Michigan wouldn't even be close to 13-5 in the Big Ten without Trey. So, since I can't decide, I'll go with Burke.
Big Ten player of the year? Why?
Dave - Draymond Green in a landslide. Sullinger's numbers are nice, but he looks decidedly less impressive than he did as a freshman. Green is the best all-around player in the league and his versatility oozes from his elite stat line. It would have been a complete shame if Green didn't get this award. He earned it.
HtR - I think this one goes to the Dancing Bear, Draymond Green. While I think some are over-exaggerating how minimal pre-season expectations actually were for the Spartans, there's no doubt that MSU's surprisingly strong season is mostly a product of Green's play. He's averaging a double double (16 ppg, 10 rpg), shoots 41% from 3, and has pretty much been the heart of soul of this team. If his level of play had been slightly less than it has been, then MSU doesn't win a share of the title.
Zach - Draymond Green in a landslide. Sullinger had a down year, Hummel and Shurna toiled away on medicore-to-good squads, and nobody had to do more for their team to succeed than Green (outside of Tim Fraizer of course).
Alex - Draymond Green. No other player has meant more to his team and performed at a consistently high level. Since I can't bear to praise Green more than that, I'll stop.